Having, against all odds, got to the Champions League Final – yes!!!! The final!!! – having, again against all odds, done so having guaranteed Champions League football next season by a fourth place finish courtesy of ‘Spursyness’ having turned out to be a contagious disease and evidently spread to our nearest rivals for that spot, wouldn’t you have thought we could at least have turned up in Madrid with, oh, I don’t know, a ‘do or die’ kind of attitude?
Instead, and I don’t feel I’m taking advantage of the benefit of hindsight here, our hope of victory lasted about 20 seconds. Ok, I’ll admit it, for a few minutes afterwards, when it became clear how poorly Liverpool were performing compared to their usual standards, I thought ‘Well, at least we’ve got plenty of time to get that goal back.’ But then that vain hope quickly evaporated in the face of one of the most insipid displays I can recall. With some teams – us in the second half of the semi-final against Ajax, for example – you feel you cannot relax until the final whistle. In this game, I can honestly say I never once thought we would fashion a chance to draw level. Even late on, when you would’ve thought we should throw the kitchen sink at it, we barely even managed a tap-washer.
So, the disappointment wasn’t so much the result as the performance. Even as a Spurs fan I was bored rigid with the lack of excitement. God alone knows what the neutral viewer must have thought. Ajax, I feel, would have made a real game of it. We were clearly unable to. So, who, or what is to blame?
I’m not going to jump in and claim Pochettino picked the wrong side. On paper, with all our players fit, it looked about the best of what we had, with the possible exception of Trippier. I can forgive Poch not playing Aurier, though, since three players having their first games after injury might have been too much. Of the other two, Harry Kane barely got a look in. How much was down to lack of match-fitness, how much to a total lack of service from our so-called creative players is open to debate but this does seem to happen too often now and maybe he needs to be protected from himself by the manager. Harry Winks was OK, at least getting on the ball and putting himself about. Of the players who were supposedly match fit, few came out with much credit, although Danny Rose was industrious down the left. I’ll single Alli and Eriksen out for special mention, though, as both were, yet again, there in name only. Eriksen has been woefully inconsistent all season, and sometimes just woeful, though pundits keep saying we need to keep him. Alli hasn’t made any impact since his injury and his season seems to have peaked back when he scored that subline Carabao Cup goal at Arsenal.
The thing is, for whatever reason, I’m not convinced that the performance would have been any better whatever team we’d put out. And, almost certainly, we’d all be on Pochettino’s back had he left out Kane. The ridiculous three-week break after the semi obviously didn’t help; another case of TV rights and the money that generates taking precedence over the welfare of the teams and the fans. Tactics? We still favour possession over penetration, showing that we haven’t learnt from even the likes of Leicester a few years back. Having an almost total reliance on full backs for width – not great when neither are crossing the ball well. A system wherein Alli only seems to be able to play in one ‘not-quite midfielder, not-quite forward’ role, which clearly doesn’t work when Kane’s off form? Lack of new blood?.
Lack of a captain and leader on the pitch?
I’ve heard some pundits, and Jan Vertonghen, say we need to keep this team together. I’m not convinced. I don’t want to see Eriksen swan around the edges of games, decorating some, occasionally with a winning goal, for yet another season. Ditto Alli. We need some new blood; players who can beat other players, do something different, take a game by the scruff of the neck. If we start next season as we’ve ended this, at the bottom of the big dipper, then we’ll be a mid-table proposition. As it is, the only positive to come out of last Saturday’s final was that we ensured that the concern expressed by Glenn Hoddle’s doctor over the danger to his heart of him getting over-excited was misplaced. If he was like me, he’d be in more danger from a suicidal depression than a heart attack after that performance.
And even the mention of Glenn’s name makes me misty-eyed with nostalgia. I’m of an age where I was fortunate enough to see a team in the late 70s early 80s that had a midfield four of Hoddle, Ardiles, Villa and Perryman, with a front duo of Crooks and Archibald. Oh, to have some of that creativity driving us forward now. Anyway, enough old guy ranting. Over and out.
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